The songs I listened to most in 2016

Time has come for me to reveal the inner aural workings of my mind. If you saw me on the train or walking through Cabramatta with my headphones on, chances are I was listening to one of these tunes. Does it make you think differently of me?

1. We've Got the Right by Boy George - For some reason I got all late 80s gay radical this year and spent a lot of time (well, 80 times to be exact) listening to Boy George's little-known paean to gay love from 1986. It is a lovely song, don't you think?

2. Restart by Sam Smith - More Queer longing. I have whittled the Sam Smith album down to just this song, and that's cos it's filled with all kinds of 1980s dance-ey fabulousness.

3. All Around the World by Lisa Stansfield - Every moment is the right moment for this late 80s classic. It might be hard to believe now, but I used to once rock the Lisa Stansfield look myself, with geisha-white face (are you allowed to say that anymore?), black lipstick and some spit curls. I was adorable. I remember lying on my loungeroom floor in Willoughby watching this song on Video Hits and when the gorgeous men from all over the world flashed up on the screen I would vote on their hotness. My friend Steph looked at me and said: "You are so immature." And nothing's changed, Steph, nothing's changed :-). Years ago I was at a soccer match and two 11 year olds were making fun of this song when it came on the radio being broadcast at the kiosk. That's when I knew I was old.

4. Theft and Wandering Around Lost by The Cocteau Twins - There is a Cocteau Twins song on my list every year. They just get better. And I have less of a need for words I can understand.

5. Jealous Heart by GO101 - I was just thinking today about GO101 and how much Australian pop music from the 80s and 90s just seems to have disappeared. GO101 were my favourites, and the lead singer was so gorgeous. Does anyone out there know someone who was in GO101? I wanna write a story about them.

6. Love Has Come Around by Donald Byrd - Super-camp disco fabulousness, I really know nothing about this song. I am surprised by how many times I listened to it :-)

7. Chenrezi by Choying Drolma and Steve Tibbetts - Glad there was something spiritual on my Top 8 :-)

8. Heatstroke by Man Parrish - Some more High NRG 80s gay loveliness to make me re-live an era I actually just missed. This was all happening while I was a high school student in North Queensland.

My favourite books of 2016

You k now I am not really a devotee of the new. So as always, my favourite books of teh year will probably be all oldies, or several years after the fact at the very least. It takes me a while to work through my piles of "books to read next." I read a lot this year - I taught and spoke a lot, and it always involved huge reading lists. So I feel as though in 2016 I really extended my knowledge - something I feel happy about.

Anyway, here are the books that delighted me the most this year:

1. Lucia in London by E. F. Benson - this year I taught a course called 'The English Comic Novel in the 20th Century' and one week was E. F. Benson. It was, of course, tremendous fun to prepare, and I think I managed to infect a few people with the Benson mania. But once again Lucia in London stood out as the best of all the Lucia books. It's never boring, for even a moment, and it is splendid in how it makes you love and despise the main character in turns. I think if I just read this book over and over I would be perfectly amused for the rest of my life.

2. Quartet in Autumn by Barbara Pym - four people get old and die. Doesn't sound like a laugh riot, but what an exquisitely formed and totally unique novel. This is the one that was nominated for the Booker Prize just before Miss Pym died, and really, it should have won. I can't wait to read it again.

3. My Hearts are Your Hearts by Carmel Bird - this year Carmel Bird won the Patrick White Award, and very deservedly so. She is a remarkable writer, and this odd and at times unsettling collection of short stories really shows a writer at the very top of her craft.

4. Proust's Overcoat by Lorenza Foschini - ever since I read Edmund White's delightful little biography of Proust some years ago I have become obsessed with the man. I have read the Remembrance...and many books of biography and literary theory. This unexpected little book is perfect for the Proust fan. detailing just how many people are obsessed with the man and have let him run their lives, long after his death. This is an entertaining and completely engrossing literary curiosity that would turn even the most hardened into a Proust enthusiast.

5. Astrology: Secrets of the Moon by Patsy Bennett - I am not really much of an astrologer, but this intriguing book opened up a whole new world to me and helped deepen my understanding of the possibilities of astrology to explain personalities and life paths. Patsy encourages readers to be more reflective about the night skies and to perhaps allow for the possibility of celestial influences. This is probably only one for those with a keen interest in astrology, though.  

6. Triumph of Joy by Pauline Robinson - unlike some of my writing friends, I am reasonably optimistic about the future of indie publishing and is possibilities. This incredibly moving memoir is an excellent example of how someone with a burning desire to tell their story can do just that and bring it to the world, no matter what publishers might say. Pauline lived through an extremely traumatic marriage which ended in the suicide of her husband, and in this beautiful book she carefully and meditatively looks at the lessons she has learned in the course of a difficult life. Engaging and ultimately inspiring, this is a collection of messages from the natural world that have come to Pauline and encouraged her to share her journey.

7. Strawberry Hills Forever by Vanessa Berry - another memoir (I do love the form), this was Vanessa Berry's first book, which must have been written when she was terribly young (she still is) but which has all of the hallmarks of maturity, sophistication and a strong literary voice. If you don't know Vanessa's work you really should become acquainted - she is one of the most fascinating people currently writing. This accomplished book deserves to be better known - completely engaging from beginning to end. Talcum powder, 80s horror movies and op-shopping - every part of the Berryesque oddness is already here. She really is my guru.

8. Dreams by Rose Inserra - I have been obsessed with dream books ever since I was a child, and my Aunty Audrey kept by her bed a battered old 1940s pamphlet dream dictionary. I have read all kinds of books about dreams over the years, and it remains a subject that absorbs me completely. Australian author Rose Inserra's exploration of dreams and dreaming is excellent and all-encompassing. It is a book I have read and re-read over the year, dipping into it occasionally when I have had a particularly vivid night of dreaming. It made me alive again to the divine messages of the dream world, and for that I am incredibly grateful.

December Buddhist Bookishness

I am just back from 5 weeks in Vietnam, where I always move in a distinctly Buddhist milieu, and where I was working on a book with a distinctly Buddhist theme. So it's not unusual that I should return with an intense interest in Buddhist books, and I have been working my way through a whole bundle.

First up is a booklet I picked up from a huge pile at the Ngoc Hoang Pagoda (these days more commonly called Chua Phuoc Hai) in Saigon. This temple has undergone something of a revival since it was visited by president Obama, and so there are crowds there every day. I have always kind of liked the place. In the very last shrine room I discovered this book, a reflection on the benefits of chanting the Great Compassion Mantra and the Om Mani Padme Hum, written by a local nun called Thich Nu Le Phat. Despite being in Vietnamese (I read VERY slowly in Vietnamese) it is a remarkably simple and interesting read, and I kept it with me the entire time I travelled. I actually went to visit the Venerable Nun, but she had the temple locked the day I turned up, and it was made even more tantalising by the fact that I could hear her chanting the Om Mani Padme Hum. So I sat outside on the stairs and listed to her instead. I would love to see this book in English - it is such an interesting and personal reflection.

Next we have a couple more books in Vietnamese, these ones specifically dealing with Quan The Am, more commonly known to English speakers as Kuan Yin, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. She is an immensely important figure in Vietnam's popular worship, and these books detail stories about her in a handy (easy to read!) comic-book format.

I am also reading some comic books detailing the life of Sakyamuni Buddha, the historical Buddha. these are great for the language student because they have the text in Vietnamese and, immediately beneath, English. I am learning so much reading these, and also learning some interesting stories from the Buddha's life.

Last year I visited Bhutan on a writer's tour with the wonderful Jan Cornall. While there we met a number of local writers, including Pema Gyaltshen, and she gave me a copy of her beautifully illustrated children's book Lamche Goes to Merak. It's a beautiful story with Bhutanese Buddhist themes.

Further along the Kuan Yin theme, I have enjoyed reflecting on Alana Fairchild's meditations on Kuan Yin in her book Wisdom of Kuan Yin. this divinely illustrated book accompanies her gorgeous Kuan Yin deck and her DVD and CD of Kuan Yin meditations. I love all of Alana's work, and she is the most blissful, beautiful soul you could hope to meet.

There is very little writing from Australia on Buddhist themes, which is part of what makes Michele Seminara's collection of poetry Engraft so unique and interesting. I say only part, because in fact her poetry is filled with many other engaging themes, and hers is one of the richest and most unique voices in Australian poetry. For quiet and reflective reading, a delicious poem at a time.

The good people at New Dawn Magazine sent me Rosalind C. Morris' fascinating academic study of popular religion in Northern Thailand, In the Place of Origins, some time ago. This is a very dense book, and difficult to sit down and read quickly. But it IS fascinating, and so much of what she is exploring and describing is unique in English. I hope to finish it very soon and produce a review, because I think it is an important book which deserves a wider audience.

Shinmon Aoki's Coffinman was a complete surprise. An incredibly engaging and readable spiritual autobiography by a mortician and Pure Land Buddhist practitioner who had once been a hip young poet. I recommend you run and get a copy of this book, because I loved every minute of it. Aoki's honest and deeply personal stories provoke responses because of our own fears of death. The marital and family discord which arise from his work all tell their own stories about how uncomfortable everyone is with the world of the dead.

Given the number of monks there are in Vietnam, and the large amount of Buddhist publishing that goes on there, I am sad that there is not more translation of this very interesting work into English. I was delighted to discover this series of Buddhist essays by Thich Chan Quang, a monk living on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City who is a prolific writer and a great believer in the power of books. They are in Vietnamese and English, so a great contribution to the literature of Buddhism around the world.

And finally, a lovely illustrated book by Vo Van Tuong called 108 Danh Lam Co Tu Vietnam (108 antique temples in Vietnam). This is a condensed version of a series of books which have been around for decades. A handsome hardcover in a slipcase, the text is in Vietnamese, English, French and Chinese. The photos haven't really been updated, so you will be shocked to see how much development has gone on in Vietnamese temples over the past twenty years or so. But this is a very handy book because it provides full addresses and telephone numbers of all of the most noteworthy temples in Vietnam. I actually have all of the older books, but I got this because it is condensed down to 108 temples, and I think to myself: "Hmmm, now that is a manageable project. Maybe a future book...." Why 108, I hear you ask? well, 108 is a significant number in Buddhism. Oh, and just a note - if you wanted to use the addresses, please take them from the Vietnamese-language section (they are all brief entries) - the "translated" addresses aren't very helpful.
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